India on the Ponce de Leon Program

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In 1996, I received a fax from the INDUS Foundation describing its vision of a cooperative venture between India and the United States.

INDUS was recruiting experts to travel to India to teach American methods to ’emerging businesses’.

There was a list of business functions for which they were recruiting experts to present a series of lectures about business. The list was of the ‘hard’ side of business, such as personnel, business administration, sales & marketing, training & development, accounting, factory layout & design.

I was a psychologist and popular speaker, trainer, author, and consultant, but my topic was the ‘soft’ side of business. My presentations had titles such as , “Creating Positive Work Environments”, “Humor, Morale & Productivity”, and “Putting Humor to Work at Work.”

When I saw that the expertise that I had established during the previous dozen years was not on the INDUS recruitment list, I thought “None of these are my topics.” I crumpled the fax and tossed it in the wastebasket.

The very next day, I received emphatic encouragement from one of my mentors, who said, “Steve, you should apply to do this!”

I took his advice and retrieved the fax from the trash. I pressed it smooth, re-read it and, even though my specialty was not on the list, I submitted my application.

Within a week I was contacted with an offer. Mr. Anomolu, representing the Foundation, informed me  that they wanted me to be the first in their lecture series. Something about my application and my point of view must have made sense to INDUS, or they thought that my humor-oriented approach made me a good opening act for their lecture series.

They offered me the opportunity to present day-long classes in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai. There would be no speaking fee, but all expenses would be paid for lodging in fine hotels, meals, and round-trip first-class air fare.



I was elated and excited as I explained the offer to my wife, Pamela, who immediately invoked what was to become a hallmark of our lives together as life partners and business partners. We call it the 4-question-Ponce-de-Leon-travel-criterion quiz. It went something like this.

Pamela: “Do you know who Ponce de León was?”
Me: “Of course. He was a Spanish explorer and conquistador.”

Pamela: “Do you know what he was searching for?”
Me: “Yes. He was searching for The Fountain of Youth.”

Pamela: “Do you know where he thought he would find it?”
Me: “Yes. He thought it was in Florida.”

Pamela: “Do you know what his wife said to him as he was planning his voyage?”
Me: “No, I don’t.”

Pamela: “She said to him, ‘Do you think you’re going to go to Miami Beach without me?’

I love Pamela’s special way of making a point so there is no mistaking her objective. We would be making this trip together.

Although the trip to India was offered only to me, it was clear and sensible that we would be traveling to India together.

When I informed Mr. Anomolu about this requirement, he was quite understanding. INDUS would happily agree to pay all expenses for both of us, but not first-class air fare. I was welcome to exchange my single first-class ticket for two coach-fare tickets. Which I did.

INDUS never did explain why they cancelled the appearances in Bangalore and Chennai, but the trip to New Delhi and Mumbai was on!

After many delays due to United States Department of State travel advisories, and with the incredible assistance of Drs. Venkat and Neely Bendaputi,  two Ohio State University professors of business, Pamela and I got to spend 17 days in India.

When we returned from India we had many stories to tell. I demonstrated the Indian laughter clubs at the American Association for Therapeutic Humor. We started The World Laughter Tour. We created a 14-city lecture tour that we completed in 1999 with our 7-week-long houseguests, Madhuri and Madan Kataria. We demonstrated the laughter club idea at the International Society for Humor Studies, and we designed the curriculum for the training program “How to Create Therapeutic Laughter.”

Seven thousand people have become Certified Laughter Leaders through World Laughter Tour classes. Laughter clubs have become popular all over the world.

Thanks to Pamela and Ponce De Leon, the trip to India changed our lives and the world forever.

The rest, as they say, is history, but there are many more stories to tell about our adventures in humor and laughter. Stay tuned.

What is the laughter therapy taught by World Laughter Tour? It is an evidence-based model familiar to the Western world, with appreciation for the influence of ancient wisdom. It’s an enjoyable mind-body-spirit process of systematic exposure to true mirthful laughter in a supportive environment. It encourages people to embrace laughter & humor, and to cultivate  a set of specific attitudes that support shifts in attitudes to bring positive results of health, happiness, resilience, peace, and thriving. It makes life more workable and work more livable.

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